5 Tips to Navigate a Conference Successfully

Back to school also means the kick-off of conference season. Whether you will be attending your first or your tenth, here are five tips I’ve picked up through the years, which I hope will help ensure that you get the most from your conference attendance.

Review the program. I’m old school and take a highlighter to the conference book after I check-in. I highlight the workshops I would like to attend. I review the presenter bios to see if there are individuals with whom I would like to connect. I also look for opportunities in the conference schedule for down time or time to connect with other attendees. Most conferences publish much of the details on their website so you can do some prep work from your office.

20170307_084141Bring the right tools. If you are old school, bring a fresh notebook, some pens (in case one runs out of ink) and a highlighter to mark key take-aways. I also bring an envelope or pouch, which I find handy for storing receipts, business cards and other relevant conference materials.

If you are all digital, be sure you bring the right power cords. If you are a heavy note taker, your device might run out of juice during the day so be prepared to find an outlet for charging or bring a back-up power supply. I also bring a mini multi-prong adapter for the room. I can plug in two devices and two USB cables. That way I can keep my mobile, Fitbit and laptop charged and not scramble for plugs.

Leverage social media. If there is a conference hashtag, follow the tweets to learn what others think about the speakers and topics. If a speaker mentions a resource, someone likely will tweet the resource and how to find it, which is always helpful. You can share your take-aways on Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also acknowledge great speakers, conference staff and hotel staff.

Take a nap. Conferences can be exhausting. Not to mention that most of us also are keeping up with our offices. Given that, sometimes it’s worth it to skip one session or a networking event to take a siesta. The downtime is the perfect way to recharge.

Network successfully. I am not talking about walking around and collecting business cards. I am talking about introducing yourself to a few people, and then asking them questions about what they do. If you make a connection, continue the conversation and find out if there is a way you might assist them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sending them a link for a resource. Be sure to follow up.

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Tips for Using LinkedIn

I wrote that I had been helping individuals in their job searches. One of the first pieces of advice I give is to update the LinkedIn profile.

“LinkedIn magnifies your networking for good or bad,” said Stephen Dupont, who gave a webinar on networking through LinkedIn. “A sparse profile looks like you don’t know what you are doing.”

Yikes!

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Here are some tips to maximize your LinkedIn profile:

  • Use your LinkedIn address in your email signature. That will enable people to click and learn more about you.
  • Edit your profile descriptor as that is what shows up on Google. Most people have it as their current job title. Is that really how you want to be known? This is where you define your personal brand.
  • Share details about you and your company.
  • Position yourself as a thought leader. Post a comment about a trending topic relevant to your field. If you write a blog, post it to LinkedIn.
  • Post jobs on LinkedIn for your company or that you know about.
  • Make it easy to contact Include your email address and phone number and why a person should contact you.
  • Post a photo. People are seven times more likely to look at your profile if you have a photo. People want to know with whom they are dealing.
  • As with any writing, be sure to proof it before you post it.

As with anything, it’s also good to know what your goals are for being on LinkedIn.

Building Your Networking System

Networking takes time and effort but the rewards can be huge.

A good networking system should include some combination of the following:

Face to face meetings. These meetings are usually one-on-one opportunities to get to know a person better or to discuss a particular subject area. I try to hold at least three of these a month.

Professional meetings and associations. To further your knowledge within your field, it’s helpful to get involved with groups that focus on your subject matter. I belong to the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Professional Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America. Monthly and yearly meetings provide me with opportunities to enhance my skills, and the networking provides me opportunities to learn about others and their responsibilities.

Conferences. These are a great way to learn new skills and, at the same time, meet with others who face similar challenges. At a recent conference I attended, I spoke with several about pitch ideas. The advice was invaluable.

Networking clubs. These groups are a chance to meet individuals from a variety of professions. I don’t belong to one, but I often attend a women’s networking group as a guest. I usually gain some insights into other areas. One time, I met an individual who ran a catering company. A few months later at work I had to organize a day-long meeting that required lunch. I called the individual I had met, and the lunch was a success.

Community involvement. I volunteer with my local library. Our shared love of books brings us together, but the individuals come from all professions. I found my tax preparer through the group. I’ve also met teachers, health care professionals and writers.

LinkedIn. LinkedIn enables you to build a strong online presence, build your credibility and network. It’s also easily searchable. When I’m hiring individuals, I always review their profiles. When one of the professional groups I was involved in needed a web designer, I posted a notice about it, and I reconnected with a former colleague who now did that work. He’s still managing our website.

In my next post, I’ll share some ways you can enhance your LinkedIn profile.

Rework Your Network

Have you recently changed jobs or are you thinking about doing so? Then you should spend some time reworking your network.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon everyone within your network, but you may need to add some new people and switch the types of meetings you attend.

Connections: Be sure to add people to your network who can counsel you about the field in which you are working or can give you straightforward advice about how you are performing.

Publications: You should also reconsider the publications you read. It doesn’t mean you have to give them all up, but you need to spend time reading those that are relevant to your current job or the position you are striving to get. When I worked for the Federal Reserve Bank, I read The Wall Street Journal every day. I still read the occasional article online, but when I moved into law enforcement, I needed to focus on the latest trends in policing.

Conferences: When I moved from law enforcement communications to international development communications, I stopped attending conferences for public safety public information officers and began attending the InterAction Forum, which focused on organizations within the development space.

Professional Groups: You will also want to reach out to other professional groups on LinkedIn. My work for some time has included a focus on crisis communications so I am a member of a group with that focus. However, if you are changing sectors, you may want to change the groups to which you belong.

4 Reasons to Join NFPW (or Any Professional Group)

When I was a rookie reporter, I joined the National Federation of Press Women, or NFPW, because I heard it would be great for networking. I figured if I was a member, when I applied for my next position, I would be ahead of the competition. It doesn’t quite work that way, of course.

Networking does play a role, but, as I’ve learned, it’s about give and take. Professional groups also help with other areas, including:

Networking. In the early years, I really didn’t have much to contribute as I was busy learning the ropes. However, many members were kind enough to impart wisdom to me, which I eagerly accepted. When I need contacts in other states, my NFPW peers always connect me with the right people. And now that I’m in a position to help, I always agree to information interviews and seek out new members and assign them a short-term role that would provide them with more exposure with the group.

Opportunities. I’ve organized conferences at both the state and national level. Putting together conferences has really honed my event planning skills. In my previous job, I had to put together awards ceremonies, special events and graduations. They all turned out fine because I applied the skills I had developed organizing conferences to these events.

One of my early forays as a newsletter editor was for my state affiliate, Virginia Press Women. Later I would go on to create an award-winning newsletter for one of the agencies with which I worked.

My first exposure to social media was during a workshop at a national conference. At the time, I thought, “This is too confusing.” Who knew that years later, I’d write my own blog and be on Twitter and Facebook. And that there would be lots of other platforms to try out, too, including Pinterest and Vine.

Professional Development. I attend conferences at the state level and the national level. Not only do I get to learn about trends, I also get refreshers in basic skills. Conferences also provide me with space to think and plan.

Another way that I improve my skills is through the annual communications contest. Of course, I like winning, but the judge’s comments are helpful, too. It forces me to think about how I could have executed a project better. I’ve also judged and reviewing entries makes me think about how I might approach a project differently.

Virginia Press Women learn about farming in Nebraska.

Virginia Press Women learn about farming in Nebraska.

Expanded Viewpoint. One of the benefits of NFPW is the travel to a different conference location each year. Many organizations do the same thing, but too often attendees don’t venture from the hotel. NFPW always arranges a tour (or two) at some point. It’s a great way to learn about another part of the country. I’m always surprised how I’m able to weave the facts I learn about a region into my work, usually as a means to open a conversation with a person from that area.

Another huge benefit for me that has nothing to do with professional development; it’s the friendships I have made. I delight in having friends scattered around the country.  It’s a great way to really know what is going on outside my state. And I always know I have someone with whom I can visit if I have an extra day.

What do you get from your professional memberships?

The Brand of You

How do you stand out in a crowd? More importantly, what sets you apart from others?

Please don’t say it’s your outstanding communications skills, your attention to detail or your ability to meet a deadline. At the NFPW conference, I asked communicators who had listed these skills on their resumes to stand. As you might suspect, lots of people were standing.

So how do you stand out? One way is to present the brand of you consistently. To do so, take a look at your resume, online platforms, personal business card, head shot, emails and network.

Resume Do you have an objective on your resume? If so, delete it. Instead include a summary statement, which is, essentially, your personal branding statement. It sums up what you do and how you do it. When you list your experience and places of employment be as specific as possible and demonstrate your success.

Online platforms Secure and establish your name domain. Do the same on social media networks. Even if you never use them you prevent others from doing so and potentially harming the brand of you. Be consistent in how you present yourself on each platform.

Personal business card Many of you have a professional business card but it’s helpful to have a personal card, too. You never know who you might meet who could benefit from your talent and expertise.  My personal business card contains my name, phone number and email address and a link to my blog. Presenting a person with a business card is much more professional than scribbling my name and email on a piece of paper.

A ghost image does not help define the brand of you.

A ghost image does not help define the brand of you.

Head shot A head shot is more than a photograph. It is often the first impression you make online. One study found that recruiters looked at a candidate’s head shot longer than they looked at any other portion of a profile so make it professional. If you are going to be on social media use a photo. Don’t use the ghost image and said the wrong message. 

Emails Think of your personal email signature as a personal calling card. Use it to share links to your social media profiles or to share about a recent honor or award. My email signature includes a link to this blog.

Network How many people are in your professional network? What are you doing to grow it and to learn more about the members? When you attend a conference, make it a point to introduce yourself to at least five people. Then follow up with them during the conference. Schedule lunches with individuals with whom you want to network. If lunch is too demanding try breakfast or just coffee. Networking should be about assisting others and not simply focused on what the other person can do for you. After a networking opportunity, be sure to follow-up.

Does the brand of you need some tweaking? If so make the time to do so now.

5 Tips to Get the Most From a Conference

Business cards

Don’t just collect business cards. Follow up with the people you have met following the conference. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Bring Business Cards. A conference is a great opportunity to network. You will want to have business cards to distribute so when you meet someone they will have your name, title and contact details. When I receive someone’s business card, I jot a few notes on the card so I can remember our conversation when I return to my office. Also, if I’ve promised to send or share information I make a note of it so that I can do so. I also send LinkedIn requests so additional networking can occur online.

Review the Schedule. Before the conference begins take some time to review the schedule and speaker bios. Highlight the sessions that you want to attend and make sure that the title aligns with the session description so you aren’t disappointed. Make note of any speakers with whom you would like to have a conversation. I’ve switched sessions after reading a speaker’s bio and realizing they were speaking on a topic that would resonate with me.

Branch Out. When there are meals or networking opportunities, make an effort to sit with individuals with whom you don’t know. Speaking to strangers isn’t always easy, but at a conference you have a good opening for a conversation. Ask why they are attending and what they hope to gain from the conference. Share your reasons for being there.

Build in Down Time. Conferences can be exhausting. Networking is hard work. Sleeping in a strange bed can be a challenge. Keeping up with the office creates challenges. While it’s admirable to want to attend every session and network to all hours, you also need to take care of yourself. Be sure to give yourself some down time if you need it.

Schedule Follow-Up. Following a conference, I’m always reengaged. I have great plans to meet with colleagues and continue the conversations. I schedule the lunches, coffees and phone calls within the first two weeks back; otherwise, I get too caught up in the minutia of my job. If I have follow-up assignments, I try to complete them within a week of returning, if possible.